No schlock this week, my fine freaky friends, we are kicking off this month’s Fiendish Flicks with the 1982 horror classic Poltergeist. Ghost stories top the list of my favorite fright flicks, and this movie to me is the Mother of all haunted tales. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of fantastically spooky spirit movies out there, but Poltergeist was the first to frighten this gal. I suspect it also is the source of many cases of Coulrophobia (aka fear of clowns…shudder).
Directed by one of my favorite horror Directors, Tobe Hooper, and with a screenplay written by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist goes on the A list of scary stories. The story follows the Freeling family. Steve and Diane Freeling (played by Craig T. Nelson & Jo Beth Williams), and their 3 children; oldest Daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and the youngest child and central focus of the flick Carol Anne Freeling, played by Heather O’Rourke. Steve’s family lives in the community build by the company he works for as a contractor, and unlike most haunted house stories, the spooks don’t come out to play on the first day of residence. Feeling safe and secure in their home, and everyday lives, the Freelings are a happy clan. Laid back and open minded, they are at first amused by the peculiar happenings that start in the house, such as furniture defying the laws of physics, but things quickly change when the house decides it wants Carol Anne for it’s very own. This film is the source of some of the most recognizable lines in horror history, like Carol Anne with her hand to the tv set saying, “They’re Heeere”, the line “Don’t go into the light!”, and the unforgettable Tangina (played by Zelda Rubinstein) saying with fallible certainty, “This house…is clean.” Which I hear in my head every time I manage to get the dishes done and the floor vacuumed on the same day.
The movie is a source of great story fodder, off screen and on. The movie was rumored to be the bearer of a curse due to the early demise of several of the trilogy’s actors. The tragic slaying of Dominique Dunne at the hands of her boyfriend, shortly after the film’s release and Heather O’Rourke passing at age 12 due to the misdiagnosis of her illness four months before the release of Poltergeist 3. Julian Beck, the actor who played the Reverend Kane and Will Sampson who played the medicine man spirit in Poltergeist 2 have also passed, but due to much more reasonable circumstances. The fun true facts about the flick, like the production company using real skeletons on set, because real ones were cheaper than fakes, and Spielberg’s inspiration for the film coming from the true story of Cheeseman Park in Denver, where a contractor was paid to move the bodies for the park to be built, but only moved the headstones to keep more cash in his pocket, also help give this flick it’s deserved cult status.
Long before CGI was the main stream standard, Poltergeist delivered chilling scenes, and moments that still make you feel a sense of awe. Where in many haunted house flicks, the minute you see the spirits, that sense of unease leaves due to their hokey nature (think The House on Haunted Hill remake, Chris Kattan as a ghost scene), the ghosts in this movie are both beautiful and frightening. Though the film is 32 years old, it still stands up today. When I heard that there is going to be a 2015 remake of Poltergeist, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disappointment. Like so many other great films, this movie doesn’t need a remake. A mass re-release would be amazing, but not a remake that will no doubt be filled with over the top CGI like that in the 2013 remake of Carrie (which was well acted, but completely ruined for me in the ridiculous blood bath scene. Seriously film makers, sometimes less is more). Poltergeist 2 & 3 are also entertaining, but went a little overboard in gimmicks, like many sequels do. The original is ranked on The New York Times 1000 best films ever made, and is a must watch for any horror fan, so before the remake comes out, sit down with some popcorn and put on this flick, as a reminder of what a good ghost story is all about.
That’s is for this week ghouls and boys, until we meet again. -Rubyby